Stephen of Philadelphia - James Otis

Starting a Fire

There is one thing these Indians can do which Jethro and I fail in every time, and certain it is we have tried very hard to accomplish what seems exceedingly simple.

You know how difficult it is, when you are in a hurry, or your hands are numb with cold, to get a spark from flint and steel. Again, you may have succeeded in striking fire at the first blow, only to find that your tinder was damp, and refused to be fanned into a blaze.

Well, these Indians do not use a flint and steel when they want to start a fire; but contrive to do it by whirling a pointed stick in a bit of wood. I have taken particular notice that they always have a piece of very dry pine, sufficiently large to be held on the ground by their knees, and that a tiny hollow has been scraped in it, with the fine particles of wood, or dust, allowed to remain in the hole.

Then a long, well-sharpened stick, something after the fashion of an arrow, is held with the point resting amid the wood dust, and, holding the top between his hands, which are held with the palms together, the Indian twirls that around until you can see a tiny thread of smoke arise, when a blaze speedily follows.

[Illustration] from Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis

It seems like a very simple matter to twirl that stick until the wood becomes heated to the point of burning; but Jethro and I have tried it an hundred times without being able to come any nearer a fire than heating the dust fairly warm, and yet there isn't an Indian boy in either of the villages who can't do the trick without seeming to work very hard.


Front Matter

The Name of My City
My Own Name
Why We Went to London
Bound for America
On Board Ship
Unknown Country
The End of the Voyage
Going Ashore
Our First Shelter
A Tedious Task
Our Cave Home Completed
How We Kept House
Savages Come to Town
What the Savages Wore
Game in Plenty
Sea Food
News of the Factor
Arrival of the Amity
Going to Meet the Factor
A Tiresome Journey
Meeting Old Friends
Roasting Turkeys
Turning an Honest Penny
A Place for the City
Building the City
A Bear Hunt
The New Home
Penn's Care for Colonists
The First Baby
How the Indians Live
Indian Utensils and Tools
Canoes of Bark
Making Wampum
The Beehive Huts
Finishing the Cure
Starting a Fire
Cooking Indian Corn
News of Penn's Arrival
Our Humble Preparations
The Welcome to Penn
A Day of Festivities
Penn Joins in the Sports
More Serious Business
What a Bake Oven Is
Baking in the New Oven
Penn Plans to Buy Land
Penn and the Indians
The Price Paid for Land
Gratitude of the Indians
Trapping Wild Turkeys
New Arrivals
Government by the People
The Promise of a School
Dock Creek Bridge
The Nail Business
Buying Iron in New York
No Merrymaking after Dark
Busy Days
Enoch Flower's School
End of Our School Days
Settlement of Germantown
New Laws in Our Own Town
A Division of Opinion
A Matter of History
Boundary Lines
The Governor's Following
A Proud Departure
The Settlement of Chester
Dining in State
Anchored off New Castle
An Uncomfortable Night
A Dull Journey
In Lord Baltimore's City
A Splendid Home
A Question of Duty
Amy of Maryland
The Shops of Maryland
The Result of the Visit
Philadelphia Progresses
Penn Goes Back to London